Marolt: The mad dash to survive middle age

Roger Marolt
Roger This

I couldn’t think of a single animal that relies on its ability to run long distances at a modest pace for survival. A high peak oxygen uptake doesn’t count for much in the animal kingdom. All this proves is that I don’t have a Facebook account and thus I spend dull moments contemplating random things.

At any rate, as one thought led to another, pretty soon I was wondering why human beings run long distances for fun and fitness. I mean, if nothing depends on how far you can go at a pace that any predator could easily take advantage of, what made humans think this would be a good thing to compete at? Maybe it was the only thing man could beat the animals at.

Even the legend of Philippides kind of runs out of gas at the finish line. The soldier allegedly ran all the way from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to excitedly announce that the Greeks had routed the Persians there. Then he collapsed and died. It’s senseless. Had he walked, the good news would have arrived a bit later but the Greeks’ safety had been secured already, so what was the rush? I see no advantage in running yourself to death to deliver untimely news. The marathon race was born. I guess the point is to see if you can complete it without expiring.

Most other sports have components of strength, quickness and strategy that could be used for survival in a pinch. Think about it — whacking a ball with a stick, kicking one, tackling a runner, jumping up and jamming an object into a heavily guarded hole, punching someone in the face or even figuring out how to take a bishop with a rook mimics survival skills. You can’t say the same for jogging.

I realize that I’m going nowhere at a plodding pace here, and thus far it has been as interesting to read as watching a 5 kilometer fun run. And that brings me to my point: How long has it been since you have run? I mean really run, like you just rang a random person’s doorbell after lighting a rolled-up section of newspaper with dog poop in the center of it on their doorstep. (Note: This prank, while effective, is old-fashioned, is very dangerous, is known to the author only through hearsay — as far as you know — should only be perpetrated on people living in concrete houses and also proves that Facebook is not the worst way to while away youthful boredom.

Earlier this spring, I realized that I had not sprinted in more than 30 years. It occurred to me as I watched a lacrosse game while the track team practiced on the perimeter. A kid named Sunday moved so fast and so gracefully that it made me feel like I had lost a fragment of unrestrained joy. There will definitely be a time in my life when I sprint for the last time, but I determined right then and there that it had not been at some unnoted time in the 1980s.

The very next day, I headed down to the park below my house and, when I was sure nobody was looking, I took off, arms pumping and driving my knees. It felt awkward, and I’m sure it looked more like I was swatting away a swarm of bees than purposely running fast, but it felt awesome in an incredibly painful way. I did it a couple more times. I went home feeling 15 years younger. I woke up the next morning feeling 20 years older.

After the debilitating muscle soreness in every part of my body wore off, I went out and sprinted again. I felt a little faster and slightly less awkward, and it was less painful. Now I’m kind of hooked on it. I’ve gone so far as to semi-formalize the routine into something I call my SHIT (super high-intensity training) workout a couple of times a week. Afterward, I feel like a million bucks that has gone through the washing machine in somebody’s jean pocket. As they say, it hurts so good.

Sprinting makes me feel almost like I am surviving something. I concoct an imperative to reach the cave before the tiger jumps on my back. It’s pure adrenaline that carries you the last 10 yards to home base when your legs are going numb and your cousin is about to tag you. I know this all sounds kind of childish, but after all, I guess that’s kind of the point.

Roger Marolt wonders why we stop sprinting and start rushing through our lives. Email